Justin Shonga celebrates with Thabo Qalinge, who took off his jersey after scoring what turned out to be the winner for Orlando Pirates against AmaZulu. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

DURBAN – Orlando Pirates are not going to hand the Absa Premiership title to Mamelodi Sundowns on a silver platter.

On Sunday, they sent a statement of intent to the Brazilians as they came from behind to beat AmaZulu 2-1 at King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi.

The victory kept Pirates’ chances of winning the league alive after their rivals Sundowns opened a six-point gap after defeating outgoing champions Bidvest Wits 2-0 on Saturday.

Pirates knew that only maximum points will keep them closer to the high-flying Downs side. 

Thabo Qalinge came from the bench to rescue his side and made sure that the gap between themselves and Sundowns is only three points.

Sundowns have a game in hand, but games in hand are not a guaranteed three points.

Pirates showed character, resilience and fight. This is a team that haven’t won a cup in four seasons and as long as it is mathematically possible for them to win the league, they will keep on believing. 

The atmosphere was exuberant and electric before the match commenced.

It was the AmaZulu supporters who enjoyed a joyful start as Mabhudi Khenyeza put them 1-0 up after 11 minutes, tapping in from Ovidy Karuru’s square pass.

Khenyeza was causing all sorts of problems for Pirates at the back with his runs and physical strength.

Usuthu were very clever in their approach as they allowed Pirates the bulk of the possession, but from their own half. They relied on the pace of Karuru and Mhlengi Cele, who combined well with Khenyeza and Siyabonga Nomvethe upfront.

Usuthu kept it tight and compact at the back, and restricted Pirates from finding room to penetrate.

Butholezwe Ncube fluffed a glorious opportunity to put his side 2-0 ahead after a vigilant exchange of passes between Khenyeza and Nomvethe.

Pirates punished Usuthu after 35 minutes as they went to sleep. 

They allowed Thembinkosi Lorch acres of space, and he dribbled past Mbatha, but the Umlazi-born goalie took one for the team as he committed a foul outside the box.

From the resulting set-piece, Nyatama rose up and headed his team back into the game from a well curled free kick by Luvuyo Memela.

It was all Pirates after the interval as they dominated possession and made a lot of box entries, but the execution and lack of composure let them down.

The in-form Lorch didn’t return after the interval as he sustained an injury. Augustine Mulenga came on for him.

Pirates played well in the second half, and they were deserving winners in the end. 

 

IOL Sport